IN the run-up to Christmas we’ll see the usual movie re-runs, including various versions of Charles Dickens’s classic tale A Christmas Carol. We’ll watch as Ebenezer Scrooge, played by a range of actors from Alistair Sim to Michael Caine, highlights the uncaring face of society within the country at that time.

The book was set in an era without a welfare state and where those in need had to rely on charity to help them and their families in troubling times. It was written in 1843 and now, 173 years later, a new Dickensian age appears to have fallen upon those in need today.

Although we haven’t yet reverted to workhouses, the level of support for those most in need has diminished under the Tory cloak of austerity.

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According to the annual Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion report, almost one million people in Scotland are now living in poverty, 45 per cent of whom are in working families.

However, instead of trying to help people get the benefits to which they are entitled, and trying to tackle poor wages and working conditions – the root cause of in-work poverty – the Tory Government prefers to penalise those needing support.

It has been revealed, via a whistleblower, that staff at the Northgate DWP centre in Glasgow have been asked to only give out sanctions until January 9 and not to sort out appeals for sanctions. These appeals, called mandatory reconsiderations, are where a claimant has asked for a sanction to be looked at again and can often result in claimants winning back the benefits they were originally entitled to.

For those struggling to make ends meet, Christmas is always a difficult time. But this decision by the DWP in Glasgow will make matters immeasurably worse for many families. Even those confident on winning their appeal will have to wait until the New Year before they can get any sanction lifted.

It seems that the Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green is in the running to be this year’s Christmas Scrooge. In contrast, there are many individuals and organisations who do what they can to support those in need, especially during the Christmas period.

This includes foodbank providers, such as the Trussell Trust, who, according to their own figures, see a 53 per cent rise in demand during this time of year. The falling temperatures often leads to people having to make the stark choice between eating and heating.

Despite UK Government indifference, there is now an increasing amount of evidence linking their policies to the rise of foodbanks. This includes research linking benefit sanctions to increasing food poverty, and research from the University of Glasgow highlighting that the sanctions regime has “detrimental financial, material, emotional and health impacts”. The research goes on to say that it pushes those on JSA and ESA to rely on food banks.

As I said in my maiden speech: “Food banks are not part of the welfare state; they are a symbol that the welfare state is failing.”

I know there are lots of local groups and individuals who organise regular collections for their local foodbank, but at this time of year I would like to encourage everyone who can afford it to make a donation to their local foodbank – no matter how little it is, it will help those struggling to get by this winter.

Even though Christmas is a time of joy and celebration for the majority of people, for many it is also a time of stress. For others it can be the loneliest time of the year.

I know that there are also a range of groups and individuals who are looking at other ways they can help others at this time of year. One particular example is a local business, Café Malatso, which is close to my constituency office.

Last year the owner of the café, Jen McKay, decided to throw open the doors of her business on Christmas Day to those who could either not afford to have a Christmas lunch or who would be on their own. It was a great success and this year she plans to do even more.

Although she was happy to fund the event herself, a number of her regular customers offered to contribute, as did neighbouring businesses who are providing a turkey, wine and even some gifts for those who attend Malatso’s Christmas Lunch.

Jen launched a social media campaign, including a crowdfunder, to make it easier for those who wanted to contribute to the day and has smashed the target she set. More than a million people have seen her social media links and the café has received donations from as far afield as America and Australia.

They have even been inundated with potential volunteers to help on the day, including musicians who have offered to come along and entertain the guests. Café Malatso will now erect a marquee outside their premises to enable them to feed even more people.

This is a wonderful idea and a true expression of the spirit of Christmas. Local individuals, businesses and organisations can make a huge difference in people’s lives, and hearing stories like this make me so proud to be from Paisley.

All across Scotland there are people like Jen McKay doing their bit to help out those in need within their local community. This is the real face of Christmas: putting the needs of others first.

The festive period can be a difficult time for many and I encourage everyone to spare a thought for those who may be alone at this time of year.

I wish all of you a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Near.